Raising the level of challenge for all children lies at the heart of RA Butler School’s G&T policy. Ann Geeves and Clare Gill describe how they have put systems in place to do this
Despite government guidelines, there are still as many variations on a G&T policy as there are schools – what I present here is just one of them. However, once having embarked on the adventure of creating a working policy for more able pupils, there is never really any going back – and certainly no standing still.
Although we are a primary school, much of the work we are doing could be adapted to apply just as easily to a secondary school – in fact with the increased resources available in many secondary schools and the specialisation of departments and staff, much of what I am about to outline would work more easily in a secondary environment.
Our G&T policy is a truly inclusive policy built firmly upon the belief that all children, at some time, are capable of displaying gifted behaviours. This belief means that we are never truly dependent on a single identification process but bring in to play as many factors as possible: CATs, SATs, teacher observations, parental input and, of course, the opinions and ideas of the children themselves.
When we set off on this journey I’m not sure we had a really clear idea where we were going but over the past two years, what started as an interest, has become a passion for us. There have been times when we felt that we really had come to a grinding halt and then other times felt we had made huge leaps forward.
At the outset we believed that if we could just overcome our biggest obstacle we would be fine. At the start we perceived that to be the identification process and, as a consequence, drove hard to persuade our staff to help us draw up a register of our able children.
Many of the staff felt this to be a terrible responsibility and I am sure this is the case for many schools and across all key stages. Difficulties stem from the terminology used and the definitions attached. At what point does a child tip from being ‘highly able’ to ‘gifted’ and do we stick rigidly to government guidelines on the differences between ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’? In fact, do we employ those terms at all?
We started with subject-specific identification sheets and asked class teachers to complete them. While we, as a primary school, found this both restrictive and daunting, in a secondary school, where subject specialisation is the norm, this could be a simple way to start. We felt vaguely satisfied with our beautiful Excel document but there was a nagging feeling that it wasn’t quite workable: back to the drawing board.
The identification process is always problematic, especially in the first term of secondary school where the pressure is on to establish a register of able children. This is without doubt an area in which the primary and secondary sectors need to work together with close monitoring of identified children at the transition stage.
It became obvious to us that the staff in our school didn’t feel confident about making the judgements we were asking them to make and so our next move was to use staff meeting time and to go through every pupil on our school roll.
We asked the staff to nominate children, not only those they taught but also those pupils they had taught previously or encountered in clubs and extra-curricular activities. Other members of the staff could second or query the nomination – with some heated debate ensuing! Once it had been accepted, the nominating member of staff was asked to complete a sheet stating the child’s area of excellence with a justification.
Having thus established our register we realised that we could not ignore formal test results and so these were included as well as CAT scores. With the inclusion of CAT scores another area for concern became evident: the need to monitor pupils scoring highly on CAT scores but who had not been identified on our register. While we worked with Renzulli’s three-ring model (and ability was only one of the three components along with task commitment and creativity), these scores could not be ignored. These children were potentially among that disturbingly high number of able pupils considered to be underachieving. We felt that we were able to cover the bases for identifying able dyslexics – teacher nominations and class contributions helped us there, but what about the child who never spoke or recorded their work? Surely the CATs told us something about them?
Renzulli’s three-ring theory: Giftedness is demonstrated when ‘above average ability’ intersects with ‘creativity’ and ‘task commitment’.
No matter how well thought out any identification process might be, it is not an end in itself and our next step was to decide how we were going to use the information we had struggled to put together.
We created a learning profile folder for each nominated child that included: the nomination sheet, test (CATs and SATs) information, the audit of extra-curricular interests we carried out with the parents, and the one we carried out with the children. There was a record of any activities the children had participated in that corresponded to type 2 or type 3 of Renzulli’s enrichment triad (see below), with subsequent targets and any evidence: children’s work, writing, photographs and an evaluation by the pupil of the activity they had participated in.
Renzulli’s triad enrichment theory was created for teachers of gifted students so that they could provide differentiated enrichment opportunities. The first two ‘types’ are suitable for all students, and the third specifically designed to challenge gifted students: Type 1 – general exploratory experiences Type 2 – group training activities
Type 3 – individual/small-group investigations of real problems.
In the secondary sector, students could be encouraged to keep profiles of this type with either a subject mentor, learning mentor or form teacher overseeing the process. We saw a way of using these profiles to form part of the transition process for our Year 6s and are presently in discussion with our local secondary school to see what they would like to have included in the profiles.
It is, therefore, essential that secondary schools are included in the early meetings surrounding learning profiles to avoid the typical comment, ‘we can’t use your criteria as we only use CAT scores on a spreadsheet’. Not only is this disappointing (and, sadly, all too common) but all the creativity that many schools try to nurture at the primary level comes to an abrupt end. This is often due, unfortunately, to a numbers game – many secondary schools have a G&T register that is greater than the total number of pupils on a primary school roll. The sheer volume of paperwork and the administrative time needed make reliance upon formal testing the quickest and least controversial alternative.
Our profiles were beginning to look impressive and appear useful, but, again, where should we go from there?
We decided that subject coordinators should become mentors for children identified as highly able within their area and they would meet to discuss interests and possible projects with the children. In a larger secondary organisation, identified children could be assigned to a subject mentor and, in the case of a child identified across several subject areas, they could choose for themselves their area for further development or, indeed, the learning mentor from whom they would like support. Not only would this extend the pupil’s learning but it would also make them active participants in the learning process.
We asked staff to ‘tender’ for off-curriculum time with small groups to carry out extended activities. At present we have an art project, French and music and literacy going ahead. We plan to refine this next year with a ‘cascade’ effect – the science coordinator, for example, providing stimulus for work on insects which will subsequently provide the stimulus for the art department which will feed the literacy group, and so on. There would be a whole-school activity on the theme and then selected groups would be enriched beyond this.
Thinking about thinking (metacognition)
Our policy is based on the belief that all children are capable at some time of gifted behaviours and therefore our task is to raise the level of challenge for all children. We do not ascribe to a system that specifies a percentage; we feel that is too prescriptive and restricting. Our daily classroom work is a vital part of this and is dependent upon clear and well thought out differentiation such as Renzulli’s type 1 activities. We use Bloom’s taxonomy (see below) extensively to differentiate, especially at the medium-term planning stage. We try to give all children a broad and varied curriculum, exposing them to as many different experiences as possible of Renzulli’s type 2 activities with some children being extended beyond these first two styles of learning to type 3 activities.
Bloom’s taxonomy: A hierarchy of questioning to use with students: knowledge –> understanding –> application –> analysis –> synthesis –> evaluation.
Our use of Bloom’s taxonomy and our pursuit of higher-order thinking led us to consider how the children themselves could become more involved in the learning process, through employing the same style of questioning techniques.
To this end, we are implementing a ‘questions book’ in both key stages, where the teacher notes particularly good questions with recognition of the child who asked it. The aim is to show the children how we value their questions and contest the impression that they are simply in school to be told things. In addition we hope it will teach them how different types of questions are more likely to give detailed and satisfying responses. We want them to understand that knowing answers is good – but asking the right questions is even better. This might not work particularly well in secondary school but the introduction of philosophy as a curriculum area would equally serve to show the value of questions. The older children are, of course, able to be taught different learning techniques and appreciate their own preferred learning styles.
In KS2 the children have learning logs in which they record any questions they asked that led to learning and to record anything they want to know related to work they have done that day. At the front of the log is a print-out of their preferred learning style and a questionnaire about ways in which they learn best. This learning log is a vital part of the learning profile for any child identified on the register. We can immediately see the child’s interests, level of creativity and ability to understand their own learning processes.
We have put so many systems in place in the past two years but with every step we take there seems to be a chasm of ‘more to do’ ahead of us. It has been thrilling to see the children respond to ‘challenge board’ questions and hear them formulate their own philosophical questions, and it never ceases to give me goose bumps when the ‘light goes on’.
There is really only one way – and that is onward. Descartes said, ‘It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well’. The same could be said for ideas.
Ann Geeves and Clare Gill are G&T coordinators at RA Butler School in Saffron Walden.